[Update III, Wednesday 1.32pm: Jason Whitlock, who was right from the start about the lacrosse case, has penned another powerful column critiquing Roberts' "credibility issues." As he observes,
Place your trust in the writer. And Roberts' reaction to the exoneration of the Duke lacrosse players calls into question her credibility. By refusing to acknowledge her mistakes in the Duke case, she creates the impression that her agenda trumps the truth.
She looks like a feminist version of Al Sharpton.
Read the entire column here.
[Update II, Tuesday, 10.56am: In today's Newsday, Neil Best discusses Roberts' defense of her writings on the lacrosse case:
Many readers have not forgotten or forgiven her strident columns for The New York Times on the Duke lacrosse scandal in 2006.
Roberts acknowledged that disgraced and disbarred district attorney Mike Nifong did a "horrible" job on the criminal case, but she said that did not alter her take on the culture behind the incident.
"That [criminal] issue is a horrible thing that should not have happened," she said. "But people want to conflate the crime and the culture. They want to say a crime did not happen, so therefore the culture that existed around that party did not happen."
Roberts' views on Nifong appear to have evolved from his having "mishandled" the case to his having done a "horrible" job on the case. She still has not been quoted anywhere as saying that there, in fact, was no case, and that Crystal Mangum's allegations were a complete hoax.
More problematic, however, is Roberts' continuing whitewashing of what she actually wrote at the time the case broke: "People want to conflate the crime and the culture. They want to say a crime did not happen, so therefore the culture that existed around that party did not happen."
As noted below, one of the first prominent figures to "conflate the crime and the culture" was Selena Roberts. Her initial column on the case (March 31, 2006, analyzed below) was riddled with factual errors, all of which made it appear as if a crime likely occurred; and, more important, was organized around a thesis that the "culture" of the team was inextricably linked to the "crime": namely, that the "culture" of the team explained why no one was willing to "snitch" on the alleged attackers.
Only as the case collapsed did Roberts evolve into the thesis that "a story doesn't have to rise to the level of a crime to rise to the level of a column." That statement, of course, is clearly true. But even a column has to be factually accurate; and even a columnist can't rewrite what she has already published. That Roberts still refuses to acknowledge her factual errors in the initial column, and continues to mislead the public about the specific thesis of her initial work on the case speaks volumes about her credibility.
After all, to quote Roberts herself, publishing is "like being in court—once you say something, you can’t just strike it.”
[Update I, Monday, 1.25pm: To their credit, in an interview this morning, WFAN's Boomer and Carton did ask Roberts about her troubling writings on the case. Roberts refused to apologize to the families of the three falsely accused players; she refused to say one way or another whether she believed a crime occurred; and she continued to suggest that something "reprehensible" occurred at the party--namely, that photographs were taken of Crystal Mangum; and that one lacrosse player responded with a racial slur after Kim Roberts initiated an exchange with a racial taunt. By the same token, she described Mike Nifong merely as having "mishandled" the case. How Roberts reached the conclusion that "reprehensible" can describe the tasteless behavior of a handful of college students and while the far softer "mishandled" can describe the behavior of a DA who lied to the court and withheld evidence she did not elucidate.
A question I would like to see asked of Roberts. "Since your book on A-Rod relies so heavily on anonymous sources, to test its credibility we must test your credibility. Given that, in writing, you falsely (a) claimed that authorities were accusing the Duke lacrosse players of a "hate crime"; (b) stated that Crystal Mangum was "treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape"; and (c) charged of the players that "none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account," why should anyone believe anything you write about A-Rod? After all, if you saw fit to print false items in one high-profile case--false items that you have refused to correct--what's to say you might be willing to print false items in another high-profile case?"]
[Original Post:] Today, Selena Roberts’ exposé of Alex Rodriguez hits the bookstores. We already know that Rodriguez is a bald-faced liar with what could charitably be described as a host of other character flaws.
But what about Roberts? In a recent interview with the MLB Network’s Bob Costas, Roberts affirmed that her obligation as a journalist was to “find the truth.” And, according to Harry Stein, she told ESPN Radio that she “buttoned up every single hole to make sure to be absolutely right . . . It’s like being in court—once you say something, you can’t just strike it.”
It’s not clear when Roberts adopted this definition of journalism: her writing on the Duke case demonstrated an aversion to, rather than a quest for, the truth. Nor has she in any way acknowledged the myriad errors in her Duke coverage. Indeed, she has done the opposite, most spectacularly in a 2008 interview with The Big Lead, in which she blatantly misrepresented her guilt-presuming 2006 columns on the case.
Press reports suggest that the most explosive allegations in Roberts’ book are based on anonymous sources. So, in effect, her portrayal of Rodriguez rests on her credibility as a reporter. Since Roberts herself has stated that being a reporter is “like being in court—once you say something, you can’t just strike it,” it’s worth reviewing exactly what Roberts said, and what evidence she had for saying it, about the lacrosse case.
March 31, 2006: “When Peer Pressure, Not a Conscience, Is Your Guide”
Something happened March 13, when a woman, hired to dance at a private party, alleged that three lacrosse players sexually assaulted her in a bathroom for 30 minutes.
Of course, nothing “happened” except for a false claim of rape, a possibility Roberts never appears to have entertained.
According to reported court documents, she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime.
Roberts was in a world of her own in describing a search warrant as a “reported court document.” (The Times was forced to run a correction several days later.) No item in the case file—“reported court document” or otherwise—ever contended that Crystal Mangum was the “victim of a hate crime.” The Times never ran a correction, and Roberts has never acknowledged her error.
[Mangum] was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.
Roberts’ description of the medical reports was false. The Times never ran a correction, and Roberts has never acknowledged her error.
Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account.
This statement was outright false (the three captains gave detailed “eyewitness accounts,” including DNA samples, which they gave voluntarily). The Times never ran a correction, and Roberts has never acknowledged her error.
For days, Durham residents and Duke students have rallied on behalf of sexual-assault victims, banging pots and pans, hoping to stir more action out of Duke’s president, Richard H. Brodhead. The indignation has been heartening . . .
That Roberts, like the Group of 88, considered it “heartening” to see protesters blanket the campus with “wanted” posters or carry enormous “castrate” signs speaks volumes as to her values. Roberts has never retracted or amended her praise for the potbangers.
The season is over, but the paradox lives on in Duke’s lacrosse team, a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings.
Attending a tasteless spring break party is enough to “belie [college students’] social standing as human beings”? Apart from Roberts’ apparent ideological comrades at schools like BYU and Liberty, it seems she has a very low opinion of thousands of college students.
But why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching? . . . Does President Brodhead dare to confront the culture behind the lacrosse team’s code of silence or would he fear being ridiculed as a snitch?
About the only place in which a tasteless spring break party could be compared to gang activity is on the mean streets of the lily-white, upper-class Connecticut suburb in which Roberts (who preaches “diversity” for everyone else) chose to live.
Article total: beyond the dubious analogies and the rush-to-judgment assertion that “something happened,” four errors of fact, only one of which either Roberts or the Times ever acknowledged. Each factual error either made the lacrosse players look guilty or reinforced Roberts' assault on the players' character.
April 12, 2006: “Accountability Fails to Rise to the Top at Some Colleges”
Duke’s lacrosse members established a ‘‘Lord of the Flies’’ ethos in Durham, N.C.
Along, apparently, with every other college student that ever attended a tasteless spring break party.
Now [Duke officials] act, fretting over the atmosphere of degradation, over the symptoms of misogyny.
When the Coleman Committee’s extensive report about the lacrosse players’ character found no “symptoms of misogyny,” Roberts was silent. When the women’s lacrosse team strongly rebutted the assault on their fellow students’ character, Roberts was silent. And when her then-Times colleague Harvey Araton displayed his own “symptom of misogyny” by dismissing as “gals” these 18- to 22-year-old Duke student-athletes, Roberts was, again, silent.
March 25, 2007: “Closing a Case Will Not Mean Closure at Duke”
The North Carolina attorney general’s office—which took over the Duke lacrosse case in the winter from Michael B. Nifong, one part district attorney, one part clueless Columbo—denied any decision [to drop the case] was imminent.
Roberts never saw fit to mention that the Bar charged Nifong with engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation” and conspiring to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence.” Instead, she described him as “one part district attorney, one part clueless Columbo.” Columbo, played by Peter Falk, “put on a good show of being dim-witted so that the criminals and even his colleagues would be more at ease around him”; he was the “deceptively bumbling” lieutenant who used his appearance as the fool to solve the crime. Was Roberts intending to remind readers that, each week on TV, Columbo deliberately used his “clueless” nature to solve the crime?
Unnamed critics, Roberts added, wanted her to “lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants crowd of SAT wonder kids.”
Roberts frequently had suggested that boosters exercise too much power in college athletics, that they exploit athletes to massage their own egos or to advance agendas that contradict the goal of higher education. But for the lacrosse team, a different standard seemed to apply. Its 100 percent graduation rate, heavy representation on the conference academic honor roll, and many good jobs upon graduation could be construed by Roberts as a bad thing.
To many, the alleged crime and culture are intertwined . . . but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive.
That might have been so, but Roberts was not among that group. In her initial article on the case—the one in which she asserted that “something happened” to Mangum, and “reported court documents” contained evidence of a “hate crime,” Roberts had linked the “alleged crime” and the “culture.” Rather than reconsider her biases, once the “alleged crime” collapsed, she simply “revised” her argument.
Apparently, no player could hold his own beer because public urination was an issue.
That sentence comports more with bawdy locker-room discussions than with the Times’ journalistic standards. But the editors, for reasons they never revealed, cleared Roberts’ insulting (and, for that matter, obviously inaccurate) assertion.
March 17, 2008: Interview with The Big Lead
Basically, I wrote that a crime didn’t have to occur for us to inspect the irrefutable evidence of misogyny and race baiting that went on that night . . . Obviously, some segments of the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world.
Of course, Roberts’ initial article had gone well beyond that: it had unequivocally asserted that “something happened” to Mangum, and “reported court documents” indicated a “hate crime.” Why did she misrepresent her work to The Big Lead readers?
Casting herself as the real victim in the affair, Roberts bizarrely contended that criticism of her work came from “Duke-player supporters who felt threatened when someone, whether it was me or another columnist, started poking at the culture of affluence and entitlement.”
In fact, the criticism of Roberts’ work extended even to the leadership of her former paper.
- Times executive editor Bill Keller: “I did think, and I told the columnists, that there was a tendency in a couple of places to moralize before the evidence was all in, and not to give adequate weight to the presumption of innocence... As a generalization, I’m not dismissive of the people who think that what appeared in the sports columns kind of contributed to a sense that the Times declared these guys guilty.”
- Times sports editor Tom Jolly: “I very much regret my failure to recognize that we were dealing with a rogue prosecutor and that the university had compounded his bravado by overreacting to the initial reports about the case . . . The bottom line is that I’d do some things differently, and that knowledge gained by hindsight has informed our approach to other stories since then.”
It may be that everything Roberts has written about Alex Rodriguez is accurate. But in coming woefully short of the standards of her profession and then refusing to come clean about her record, Selena Roberts sounds a lot like her portrayal of a certain high-profile third baseman.